Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013



"It sure takes a lot of rough knocks and fall downs for a man to learn how to live and get along. And about the time you learn how to live and what is important in this old world, you are about ready to leave it and pass on to a higher plane of life as God has chosen for you. And each of us no matter how great or small leaves behind a part of our self in one form or another. I want to leave a good image of myself to all of my kids and grandchildren. I think I have or I hope I have." - Joe Bruffy

 

My paternal grandfather served in World War II. Before he passed away in 1989, he sent me an old, small book that my mother had given him. Those are his words above.


The war experience was one of two that defined my Grandpa Joe. The first was his birth, which left him an orphan.

The other was the war. My grandfather was a spitfire liberal, and he believed in things greater than himself. He loved his god and he loved his country, but he did not love greed. He saw the way the nation was turning and despaired to me in his letters. They were written in the 1980s.

The war taught him what happens when a country turns together, when it looks outward instead of inward, and how strong a society that gives to one another can be. He fought for his community and for his family, for good or ill.

When he wrote of the war, he often did it in the third person. He had a hard time personalizing his experiences. I think it was too painful.

In his stories, he talked about how it was during the war that his asthma began, how laying on the ground set off arthritis in his back, and how it felt when his friend died in his arms, his belly blown open by a German gun.

War is a terrible, nasty business. Death is never pretty. Today is a day to remember great sacrifices and debts unpaid. It is a lot more than the unofficial start of summer.

Joe served in France and was part of the push into Germany in 1945.

So in honor of those who fought to defend a better way of life, I present to you a small piece of my grandfather's memories about what it was like to have served in World War II.


Warning: Some of this is a little gruesome, but then, war is.
The War

On February 7, 1945, a young man of about twenty six was ushered before an army captain in Hatviller, France, a small town west of the German border. He had been in the army approximately six months, going through infantry basic training, and had been sent over seas. As an infantry soldier he had left behind a wife and three small boys. After proper salutes and the briefing, he was sent to the front lines, where he joined two other guys in a muddy foxhole.

Tony Stokes and John Grindle looked him over, and decided they liked what they saw. He was sort of a quiet fellow, about medium height with gray eyes and a shock of brown hair. John was a regular army guy with about eight years and he had been on the line for about three months. Prior to that he had been in the transportation department, but had got butted from a staff sergeant to a private and sent to the front because of a drunken brawl, where he had sent a first sergeant to the hospital with a broken nose. Tony, like Joe, had been in the army about six months and also left a wife and two daughters at home. All three men were from the south, and all had strong feelings about America.

Joe had been a coal miner from West Virginia. Tony had been a warehouse long shore man from Mobile, Alabama. John had been a peanut farmer from Georgia, and all were prejudiced toward yankees and black men. After being together about three days and exchanging information about each other, they were beginning to form a friendship that would last the rest of their lives.

They were in the 100th Die 3971 of Regiment, 3rd battalion. COK third platoon and third squad. When Joe had arrived the third squad had been dug in on a small hill overlooking a valley. The foxhole had been enlarged enough to accommodate a 30 caliber machine gun with a field telephone. The hole had about eight inches of water in it from the melting snow and rain.

John and Tony was sleeping outside in raincoats and shelters houses, only using the hole when the artillery started. Joe took one look at the water, took out his shovel and dug a small ditch at the bottom of the hole and drained the water out. He then, with his bayonet, cut several armloads of pine boughs, laid them in the hole, spread out his shelter house and made a dry bed. In the meantime, John and Tony was watching all of this. Tony said to John, "why in the hell didn't we think of that?"

Joe, in his West Virginia hillbilly way, replied, "You all didn't have sense enough." They didn't know Joe had been wrote up in this camp Joseph T. Robinson team camp news as being the best camouflage fox hole expert in the camp.

On about the third day, about 4 a.m., Joe was standing guard at the machine gun. The phone clicked and Joe lifted the receiver. The low voice of Lt. Nolon came over the wire telling Joe to be on the alert, as there was some kind of commotion down by the river. Joe strained his eyes trying to see through the fog and mist, but could see no movement of any kind. Suddenly a flare shot up from the other end of the line, and a gun opened fire, staffing along the riverfront.

Then all hell broke loose as the whole platoon opened fire, showering the valley with a wall of fire. The command came down to stop firing. When daylight came and the fog lifted, you could see a flock of sheep had drifted down from the hills, and that was what was making the noise. After that the third platoon was called the sheep brigade.

The water the men had been drinking came from a small mountain stream that was flowing approximately 20 foot from their hole. The snow had started to melt, and John had went upstream to relieve himself. Joe and Tony heard a loud yell from John. Grabbing their weapons, they started up to see what the matter was.

John was sitting down throwing up and at his feet laying in the water was a dead German soldier with the top of his head blown off. The small stream of water the men had been drinking from was flowing overtop of his half blown off head. The thought of drinking that water was just too much for John.

The next morning orders came down to get ready to move out, as a push was starting to crack the ziefreig line after loading up the machine gun and a weapons carrier, we had removed the phone and everyone mustered up.

The push started about 8 a.m. Joe and Tony had discarded everything but their shelter houses and raincoats. John had decided he was going to wear his heavy overcoat. As they proceeded up the muddy road, balls of mud would accumulate on John's overcoat, and he would cut off about six inches of the bottom. After a while it was cut off up to his waist, which left him with a good heavy top jacket.

That started a trend, and it wasn't long before the whole platoon was wearing the top half of their army overcoats. They named them after John and called them Johncoats.


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This entry is a rewrite of other Memorial Day or Veteran's Day entries that I have written on this blog. You can read the originals here and here.

4 comments:

  1. What a wonderful legacy your Grandpa Joe has left you. You have a right to be proud.

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  2. So wonderful that he left his words for you and for all of us to learn by.

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  3. what a great gift you have from your grandfather

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  4. Great Blog Sis, Grandpa Joe would be and is proud of you, as am I!!!

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